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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Story: Is That A...Pig?

A Short Story By Rich Cushing

When my wife & I decided that we needed another pet we had different opinions. I wanted a dog, she did not! Period.

She pointed out that we had 2 loving cats, already. I pointed out that, even though they behaved more like dogs than cats, I needed a pet that was a little less aloof. In fairness, our cats, Gizmo & MJ, are unconditionally loving, do incredibly goofy things, and beg for food. I believe they have no feline role models to imitate, and , therefore are forced to behave like the dogs on TV. Yes, we spend a lot of time with our pets!

My wife glibly suggested a pig. She's from Texas. What a stupid thing to say - a pig! We live in Florida. A pig, hah!

So, ten minutes later I'm on the computer looking at piglets. Cute enough to melt the toughest heart! I had never seen a 'Pot Bellied' pig. Over the next few days I educated myself about this absolutely ridiculous animal. There is no shortage of information about them on the Internet. And, no shortage of horror stories from people who thought it would make a great pet.

From stories about biting, charging, and uncontrollable behavior to pleas for help from people who bought an 8 pound piglet and now had a 300 pound monster. So many people have to get rid of their pigs that there are sanctuaries all over the place taking them in. Worse, many more are being euthanized! So, here it was, we were not going to get a pet that we would have to give up later. No way.

But, they are so damn cute. I kept going back to 'pig' websites. I came to some conclusions about why people had so many problems. I figured that, being educated and patient, we could handle any animal. We had forethought.

Dawn, my wife, and I sat down and seriously discussed what would happen if it got too big for our house; what would we do if it were mean. We made a commitment to see it through, no matter what! I set off to buy a Pot Bellied Pig - hah.

By this time, I am an expert in pig info and quickly found a qualified breeder in Texas. After seeing pictures of 8 adorable pigs, one caught our eye. He was grey, with a white triangle on his forehead. He looked like trouble. She explained that he was 8 weeks old and had a little longer to wean. He had to be fixed before she would ship him to us. In 2 weeks we would pick up our new baby at the airport.

For the next 2 weeks we read everything we could find on the care, nutrition, and training of pigs. Here are some basics: They are very smart; they are easily house broken; they are very clean animals; they don't have dander or smell bad. We couldn't believe we hadn't gotten one before this!

The common mistake that I had read about was that people fed their pig like they would a dog - 2 meals a day plus treats whenever they begged. This was how you got a very big, mean pig - fast! Food is EVERYTHING to a pig. They will do anything to get it. If the pig thinks he can manipulate you and get it, he will. All of the biting and bad behavior that we read about related back to food. I've trained a lot of dogs; I had this licked before he got off the plane.

Palm Beach International Airport has certainly seen its share of celebrities, presidents, and socialites. But, I am confident few pigs have come through its well coiffed concourses. We were very curious to see how this would go.

We drove an hour to the airport to retrieve our adopted child on the appointed day. We parked in the express parking because we figured he wouldn't have much luggage. We were almost running by the time we found the right place.

Coincidentally, the place to pick up pigs is also the same place to report or claim your lost luggage. A half a dozen people were in line in front of us, alternately complaining and then berating the harried clerk behind the counter. It was an ugly scene for the next 30 minutes as we got closer to the desk. The line behind us grew. The clerk was a passive-aggressive, condescending, airline professional. Unflappable.

'I'm here to pick up a pig.' I announced proudly. The room was suddenly silent. 'What?' the clerk barked. I gave him my shipping receipt. He walked slowly to the back, in search of a pig.

'I bet that's the first time you've ever said that.' The eighty-year old man next to me remarked. 'No sir,' I replied, dead-pan 'I grew up here.' the room erupted into laughter. The scowls briefly went away.

The clerk arrived with a pet carrier that one of our cats wouldn't fit into. Squinting through the holes I could just make out a nose. Yep, that's our pig. Off we went with appropriate oohs and ahhs from our new supporters wishing us well!!

We got back to the care as fast as we could, eager to hold our newest addition. Dawn couldn't wait to be the heroine to rescue our little pig after the terrifying experience of having surgery and then taking the plane trip.

We got in the car, our very small car, and I set the carrier on my lap. Then I took the top off, so I could get a grip of the little guy. He was so cute that it brought a tear to my eye. He was 8 pounds of nose!

Now, 2 things are important to understand about Pigs. First, all of the sayings like, 'squeal like a pig' and 'that actor is such a ham' are based in reality and accurate. And, more importantly in this case, pigs have a gland like a skunk and, when they get truly scared, they will emit an odor similar to elephant urine.

As I grab our yet to be named piggy from his crate, he simultaneously starts squealing (like a pig) at the top of his lungs like we are stabbing him and hits me with his own personal stink bomb. Without saying a word I handed this thing to my wife. After a few minutes, in a blanket on her lap, he calmed down enough for me to drive home. The trauma and the smell of these few minutes evaporated when I rolled down my window to pay for the parking.

The kid taking money looked at me like I was handing a him a pile of poop. His eyes were watering from my new musk, but he looked down at my wife's lap and asked, 'Is that a pig?' I couldn't help but like him, even through the tears he smiled at our little lump of nose.


On the drive home we names our new son, 'Pudge'. He narrowly missed being named 'stinky' after our initial homecoming. Thank God he has never done that since then. Apparently, it only happens when he's scared. Pudge is never scared. He might be upset, but, never scared.

He was cuter than we had hoped and you couldn't help but smile, or outright laugh, when you looked at him. Let's face it, we were in love with him before he got off the plane. Now, we were bizarrely giddy about everything he did. If his nose twitched we'd break up. I swear I saw pure joy on my wife's face when he passed gas - a now famous treat!

When my son, Michael, was born I remember this feeling of total bewilderment when we brought him home. This was almost the same. I had no idea how to take care of a little baby pig or a 400 pound hog! What the hell were we thinking! I grew up in Boca Raton. Do you know how many pigs there are in Boca Raton? Zero!

When I brought my son home I had a beer to calm my nerves. When Pudge came home I went through a six pack.

Think abut this for a minute. Can you get any idea of how shocking it was to look into a room and see a football sized pig standing there? Now imagine the pig raises just one eyebrow and grunts at you like an old man, "Mmmph", in a low undertone. We have never laughed so hard!

A pig isn't hyperactive like a puppy. He's also a pessimist. He's already decided that he's not going to like something, long before it happens. Only after he's determined that the situation isn't going to kill him will he enter a room. So he tends to stand a lot and when he walks he's very slow and careful. He's just not brave.

Unless there is food involved. He's also a dare-devil track star who will fight crocodiles to the death if you happen to have a banana to reward him with. The dichotomy of Pudge.

"Mmmph", our flatuant nose said, standing in the hall. I'm not sure what I expected him to sound like, but, I wasn't prepared for the grumpy old man routine. He walked around the entire carpeted area of the house - talking to himself. Our cats were not amused.

In my research on the internet, I had come upon a concept among pot-bellied pig owners; training the pig to use a litter box. It really didn't sound like a bed idea as we waited for our football sized pig. It didn't hit me, until about a year later when I was picking up man size yard bombs, that is was simply wrong.

Are they nuts?! Here's a clue, pigs eat everything they can all day, everyday of their life. They produce their body weight in poop about every other day. Yea, I want to share the bathroom with this guy!

But, at the time, he's just this little nose humming around the house. Sawn and I followed him around like complete fools, laughing until it hurt. He walked into the bathroom where I had set up this 'piglet friendly' litter box as was recommended. He walked to it, humming, and seemed to assess the situation thoughtfully. Slowly turning around he communicated with me clearly, I was a moron. He now pitied me.

If you were to ask me to describe Pudge, and what it was like to have a pot-bellied pig as a domestic pet, I would say he's pig headed, selfish as a pig, stubborn as a pig, and a big ham! All of the sayings are true - every one of them! He's a jerk! He's our jerk, but he's a jerk.

It was impossible not to try and treat him like a dog. But, you can't. First of all, he won't take you seriously. All the mind games you can play on a dog are lost on a pig. He's not going to 'fetch' unless you can convince him that there is going to be food as a result of his participation. Also, a pig does not respond like a dog - to anything.

When a dog is upset or baking you can usually calm it down by the tone of your voice. When a pig is upset he could care less about the tone of your voice. And, he want to communicate. He mumbled and honked endlessly. Of course, we talked back. We didn't pay all that money for a pig we couldn't talk to. We just had an initial language problem.

Also, here's a tidbit of knowledge, they don't like to be picked up or held. And, I mean they don't like it! Have you ever heard a pig being stabbed by one thousand tiny sharp knives? Pick up a piglet. The assault on our nerves was devastating.

Again, we didn't buy this ridiculously cute fart bucket so we wouldn't hold him. Also, the more we handled him the more he accepted that he wasn't the dominant pig. And, yes I do find it ironic that my wife can refer to me as the big pig in the family and be totally accurate. It was either be the big pig or be the big pig's bitch.

One of the many fun facts about pigs is that they train easily. by that I mean that I am not sure who gets trained. By the end of the exercise we usually achieve the desired results. But it's usually at Pudge's discretion. If he decides he like whatever stupid thing we have him do, then we have an easy time.

If food is at the end of the exercise he can master high math skills. So food became the holy grail in all of his tricks. So far he has mastered a total of two tricks. He gives kisses and he 'sits'. It was really cute to watch our 10 pound piglet come running to give kisses for a treat. On the other hand, it was one of the truly scariest moments of my life to watch my hundred pound pig pull my bottom lip out from my face, like a piece of bubble gum, giving me a big smack for his cookie. I wasn't sure I was going to get it back.

The best example of how training went at our house would be our morning routine. I am an insomniac & I am used to getting up at around 5 a.m. Pigs get up with the sunrise and go to bed at dusk.

Originally, we had made his bed in the laundry room closet. This way we could restrict him at night and when we weren't home. No matter how quiet I was he would hear me after a few minutes. I would hear a soft grunt and knock on the laundry room door. If I ignored him, or just wasn't fast enough, he would launch into a high pitched temper tantrum while banging on the door.

He would actually hold me hostage. If I didn't let him out he would wake up my wife. At 5 a.m. One look at his face and you would see that he was a calculating, sarcastic genius. He had no shame.

This dawned on me about 5 weeks after we got him. I was stand there, in my robe at 4:05a.m., trying not to yell at the fart bag. He had gotten up 5 minutes earlier every few days until I was now losing almost a whole hour of sleep. And, it had taken me weeks to figure it out.

Today, Pudge is a well behaved - 5 year old pigger. He weighs about 120 pounds. While our friends may see only the large adult pig running towards them for a treat, we still see our little football with a nose.

So, I say to all of you who have decided to get one of these amazing creatures, 'Have patience and a sense of humor when dealing with pigs. They might be smarter than us!'